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Schools to Watch: HighPerforming Middle Grades Schools for the 21st Century


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Title: Schools to Watch: HighPerforming Middle Grades Schools for the 21st Century

Schools to Watch High-Performing Middle Grades
Schools for the 21st Century
Middle GradesAt the Crossroads
  • Recognition that too many schools are middle
    schools in name or grade configuration only
  • When middle grades reform recommendations are
    implemented with consistency, over time we know
    middle grades schools can be powerful communities
    of learning
  • Comprehensive middle grades reform yields higher
  • Structural changes are necessary but not
    sufficient to accomplish all that needs to be
  • Need to focus on rigorous curriculum, effective
    instruction, and multiple forms of assessment
  • Need for targeted, ongoing professional
    development and preservice teacher preparation
    for middle level educators

What is the National Forum? The National Forum
is a group of sixty-five educators, researchers,
state and regional school leaders, national
education associations and foundations dedicated
to improving education for middle-grades students
across the country.
Some of the organizations who are members of the
National Forum Include...
  • The Work of the Forum
  • Establish a common vision and language for
    speaking about middle-grades school improvement
    among stakeholders
  • Forge sustainable partnerships among state
    agencies and organizations seeking to improve
    middle-grades schools
  • Train leaders at the state, district, and school
    levels to assess school performance using a set
    of rigorous criteria
  • Provide exemplars and inspiration for schools
    seeking to improve their performance.

Schools to Watch History
  • n1994-1995 - Program officers of Carnegie, Edna
    McConnell Clark Foundation, W.K. Kellogg
    Foundation, Lilly Endowment and others meet to
    discuss middle grades reform issues
  • n1997 - Joan Lipsitz, Tony Jackson, Hayes Mizell,
    and Leah Meyer Austin write, Speaking With One
    Voice, published in Kappan. National Forum
  • n1999 - Following development of criteria, first
    four pilot Schools to Watch selected and
  • 2002 - Schools to Watch national recognition
    moves to the state levelCalifornia, Georgia, and
    North Carolina are selected trained at NMSA
    Headquarters by the Forums STW Committee
  • 2003 - Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Virginia
    join Schools to Watch effort are trained in
    Indianapolis by STW co-chairs and new state
    leaders. 14 STW recognized

Schools to Watch History
  • 2004 National Forum incorporates and becomes an
    independent 501(c)(3) organization. New York
    Ohio join Schools to Watch. As governance issues
    develop, state leaders work with Forum leadership
    to create an oversight committee to further the
    work. 40 Schools are recognized.
  • 2005 Arkansas Michigan become STW states and
    are trained in Indianapolis by Forum state
    leaders. 55 schools recognized. The first state
    STW go through re-certification, with three
    schools retired. The first national STW
    conference draws over 400 participants to
    Washington, DC. States identify archivists to
    collect data about the impact of STW.
  • 2006 Pennsylvania, South Carolina Utah join
    STW. 50 of the nations middle schoolers in STW
    states. 86 STW.
  • 2007 New Jersey Oregon become STW states. 126
    STW across the nation.

The Vision
Academic Excellence High-performing schools
with middle grades are academically excellent.
They challenge all students to use their minds
well, providing them with the curriculum,
instruction, assessment, support and time they
need to meet rigorous academic standards. They
recognize that early adolescence is characterized
by dramatic cognitive growth, which enables
students to think in more abstract and complex
ways. The curriculum and extra-curricular
programs in such schools are challenging and
engaging, tapping young adolescents' boundless
energy, interests, and curiosity. Students learn
to understand important concepts, develop
essential skills, and apply what they learn to
real-world problems. Adults in these schools
maintain a rich academic environment by working
with colleagues in their schools and communities
to deepen their own knowledge and improve their
Developmental Responsiveness High-performing
schools with middle grades are developmentally
responsive. Such schools create small learning
communities of adults and students in which
stable, close, and mutually respectful
relationships support all students' intellectual,
ethical, and social growth. They provide
comprehensive services to foster healthy physical
and emotional development. Students have
opportunities for both independent inquiry and
learning in cooperation with others. They have
time to be reflective and numerous opportunities
to make decisions about their learning.
Developmentally responsive schools involve
families as partners in the education of their
children. They welcome families, keep them well
informed, help them develop their expectations
and skills to support learning, and assure their
participation in decision making. These schools
are deeply rooted in their communities. Students
have opportunities for active citizenship. They
use the community as a classroom, and community
members provide resources, connections, active
Social Equity High-performing schools
with middle grades are socially equitable. They
seek to keep their students' future options open.
They have high expectations for all their
students and are committed to helping each child
produce work of high quality. These schools make
sure that all students are in academically
rigorous classes staffed by experienced and
expertly prepared teachers. These teachers
acknowledge and honor their students' histories
and cultures. They work to educate every child
well and to overcome systematic variation in
resources and outcomes related to race, class,
gender and ability. They engage their communities
in supporting all students' learning and growth.
Academic Excellence
Vision Statement The school challenges all
students to use their minds well, providing them
with the curriculum, instruction, assessment,
support and time they need to meet rigorous
academic standards.
STW Criteria All students are expected to
meet high academic standards. Curriculum,
instruction, assessment, and appropriate
interventions are aligned with standards and
are rigorous.
Developmental Responsiveness
Vision Statement The school creates small
learning communities of adults and students in
which stable, close, and mutually respectful
relationships support all students intellectual,
ethical, and social growth.
  • STW Criteria
  • The school creates a personalized environment
    that supports each students intellectual,
    ethical, social, and physical development.
  • The school provides access to comprehensive
    services to foster healthy physical, social,
    emotional, and intellectual development.

Social Equity
Vision Statement The school has high
expectations for all their students and is
committed to helping each child produce work of
high quality.
  • STW Criteria
  • To the fullest extent possible, all students,
    including English learners, students with
    disabilities, gifted and honors students,
    participate in heterogeneous classes with high
    academic and behavioral expectations.

Organizational Structures Processes
  • STW Criteria
  • A shared vision of what a high-performing school
    is and does drives every facet of school change.
  • The principal has the responsibility and
    authority to hold the school-improvement
    enterprise together, including day-to-day
    know-how, coordination, strategic planning, and

Vision Statement These are the norms,
structures, and organizational arrangements that
support and sustain schools trajectory toward
excellence in all areas.
Schools to Watch States 2002
Number of STW States 3
Nations Middle Level Students in STW States 19
Schools to Watch States 2003
Number of STW States 7
Nations Middle Level Students in STW States 29
Schools to Watch States 2004
Number of STW States 9
Nations Middle Level Students in STW States 39
Schools to Watch States 2005
Number of STW States 11
Nations Middle Level Students in STW States 43
Schools to Watch States 2006
Number of STW States 14
Nations Middle Level Students in STW States 50
Schools to Watch States 2007
Number of STW States 16
Nations Middle Level Students in STW States 53
Nationwide-- Schools to Watch
There are currently 126 Schools to Watch
State of STW Arkansas 1 California 18
Colorado 5 Georgia 11 Illinois 12 Ke
ntucky 10 Michigan 4 New Jersey 1 New
York 7 North Carolina 26 Ohio 14 Oregon
1 Pennsylvania 3 South Carolina 1 Texas
1 Utah 3 Virginia 9
Common Threads
  • While each school faces different challenges
    related to its location, student demographics,
    levels of district support, and other factors, we
    have seen common themes emerge.
  • Our Schools to Watch
  • Know and articulate the academic outcomes they
    seek. In some cases, the outcomes are prescribed
    by the state or district in others the faculty
    have adopted the outcomes recommended by their
    various disciplines.
  • Are taking deliberate steps to help students
    achieve those outcomes by making strategic
    changes in curriculum, teaching, and school
  • Enjoy a high degree of family community
    involvement (but are never satisfied with their
    current levels).
  • Demonstrate a high level of faculty commitment.

Common Threads
  • Have set benchmarks for implementing their
    strategies, and hold themselves accountable for
    specific results. We cannot stress too much the
    importance of data in the lives of these schools.
  • Strategically concentrate their energies on
    important focus areas. As a result, the changes
    in each school are burrowing deeply into its
  • Have strong, visionary leaders who can articulate
    challenging goals, and motivate faculty and staff
    to reach those goals.
  • The schools are filled with happy, positive, and
    involved students and adults who are all actively

How can I get involved in STW?
  • Visit
  • Take a virtual tour of a current School to Watch
  • Join the visitation team
  • Discuss STW criteria with your school community
  • Complete an application this fall

Oregon STW Criteria
  • Must have at least 2 grade levels, including 7th
  • Must have 3 years of State Report Card data for
    current configuration
  • Can not be in School Improvement w/sanctions
  • Must be designated as Strong or Exceptional on
    State Report Card for the most recent school year

  • OR
  • Must have above the state average in math,
    reading/language arts, science, and writing in
    all grades tested within the school's middle
    level program for the most recent school year

Oregon STW Commitment
  • Present at the OMLA Annual Conference (March
  • Open school doors for site visits from other
  • schools
  • 3 year authorization and commitment
  • Attend National STW Conference in Washington D.C.
    (June 2009)

Is our school ready?
  • Consider the following statements.
  • Is your school there or are you still
  • Our school meets the minimum requirements.
  • Our schools programs are replicable by schools
    with challenging and diverse populations.
  • Our school has an operational, school wide
    progressive discipline plan. All students receive
    consistently fair and equitable treatment. The
    suspension data reflects that no subgroup is
    being unreasonably suspended.
  • Our school actively supports the mental,
    physical, emotional, and social health, welfare
    and safety of our students with counseling,
    health services, adult advocacy, developmentally
    responsive activities, and positive incentives.
    Cognitive and non-cognitive programs are designed
    and implemented to encourage, motivate, resolve
    conflict, and build character, resiliency,
    attendance, and achievement for all students.

Is our school ready?
  • Consider the following statements.
  • Is your school there or are you still
  • The district (superintendent and school board)
    provides strong support for its middle schools to
    meet the needs of young adolescents with
    financial resources, highly qualified teachers,
    administrators, and counselors, curriculum and
    instructional materials, and professional
    development for its teachers
  • The school has an operational and formalized
    structure of distributed leadership that embraces
    a clear and current vision and mission for the
    school. Groups meet independently and regularly
    with a clearly articulated system of norms,
    collaborative purpose, communication, and ability
    to make meaningful decisions.
  • The school is an integral part of the community.
    It seeks support from the community
    (universities, colleges, businesses, non-profits)
    and provides support to the community in terms of
    student volunteer services, facilities, and joint

Is our school ready?
  • Consider the following statements.
  • Is your school there or are you still
  • The master schedule of the school is a reflection
    of students needs and school mission. It is
    flexible and innovative in providing time and
    opportunity for coherent, rigorous,
    standards-based instruction for all students
    within the school day. It provides students with
    curricular opportunities in core subjects,
    targeted intervention opportunities, electives,
    and physical education. It provides common
    planning time for teacher teams in the school to
    work collaboratively on the behalf of their
    students. It creates smaller, closer learning
    communities for students.

Is our school ready?
  • Consider the following statements.
  • Is your school there or are you still
  • 9. Students are heterogeneously placed on teams
    and in classrooms to the fullest possible extent.
    Instruction is differentiated for interventions
    and enrichment opportunities. Resource
    specialists collaborate or co-teach. Additional
    intervention or content specific classes are
    provided for students with specialized needs that
    cannot be met in the regular classroom (i.e. math
    intervention, beginning and early English
    language development, remedial reading).
    Enrichment and leadership opportunities are
    accessible by all and not determined on the basis
    of IQ and test scores. Advanced content classes
    (algebra, geometry) may have prerequisite
    standards and support classes for student
    success. All classes have high expectations and
    high levels of student engagement.

Is our school ready?
  • Consider the following statements.
  • Is your school there or are you still
  • Curriculum, instruction, school-wide strategies,
    pacing, assignments, homework, assessment,
    grading and reporting, enrichment projects and
    activities (i.e. History Day, Science Fair, field
    trips) in each subject area is consistent and
    coherent across the school.
  • By the time application is submitted, the entire
    administration and faculty will have participated
    in an extensive and ongoing discussion of the
    Schools To Watch-Self-Rating and the development
    of the application. If selected, we will be
    prepared to honorably fulfill the obligation of
    sharing with others statewide and nationally what
    it takes to be a high performing, high impact
    middle school that is on its own continuous
    journey of improvement.

  • August 2008 Applications Available
  • Nov. 8, 2008 Applications Due
  • Dec. 2008 Reading of Applications
  • Jan. 2009 Site Visits
  • Feb. 2009 Announcement of Oregon STW
  • Mar. 2009 STW Presentations at OMLA Annual
    Conference in Bend

Research supporting the National Forums Vision
Lee Smith, 1993
Purpose To evaluate impact of school
restructuring on student achievement and related
outcomes Sample Data from over 8,800 8th grade
students in 377 schools Results Elements of
restructuring were positively associated with
academic achievement engagement. ?Modest
increases in academic achievement (e.g., reading
mathematics) ?Increase in student engagement
(e.g., homework, feeling bored, prepared for
class) ?Greater equity of student outcomes
Felner et. al, 1997
Purpose Assess evaluate impact of Turning
Points recommendations on middle grades reform
(achievement, social-emotional, and
behavioral) Sample Survey and achievement data
from 31 Illinois schools. Results Students in
more highly implemented schools had higher
achievement and better adjustment ?Higher
achievement in more highly implemented schools
(language arts, reading, and math) ?Lower levels
of behavior problems in more highly implemented
schools. ?Students in highly implemented schools
had higher levels of self-esteem and lower levels
of worry and fear.
Pattern of Impact of Levels of Turning Points
Implementation for Economically and Socially
Disadvantaged Students
Chicago Consortium Studies, 1990s
Purpose To study the relationships of student
social support academic press to gains in
student achievement. Sample Survey and
achievement data from 6th 8th grade students
and teachers in 304 Chicago schools in
1997. Results Levels of both social support and
academic press are positively related to gains
in achievement. ?Social support academic press
impact student achievement (reading math)
combined effect produces greatest achievement
gains ?Students attending the least racially
integrated, lowest-achieving, economically
poorest, and largest schools are least likely to
experience the combined impact of support and
press known to impact student achievement
CPRD University of Illinois
Purpose Assess evaluate impact of
comprehensive school reform elements on middle
grade schools Samples Survey and achievement
data from hundreds of middle grade schools in
several states (AR, IL, LA, MA, MI, MS) Results
Implementation of middle school reform elements
impacts student learning achievement
?Achievement scores are higher for students in
schools that are teaming with high common
planning time ?Team size and length of time
teaming also affect student achievement scores
?Teachers with middle-grades certification
engage more frequently in best practices, which
impacts achievement
Other Studies
?Backes, Ralston, Ingwalson (1999) examined
impact of middle school practices on student
achievement in 6 BRIDGES schools in North
Dakota Found that most achievement scores were
higher in BRIDGES school implementing Turning
Points recommendations ?Lee Smith (2000)
examined impact of school size on student
achievement Found that students in small schools
(lt400 students) perform better and teachers have
a more positive attitude about responsibility for
student learning
Other Studies
?Sweetland Hoy (2000) studied relationship
between school characteristics and educational
outcomes Found that teacher empowerment
(decision making) was linked to student
achievement (reading math)
Backes, Ralston, Ingwalson (1999). Middle
level reform The impact on student achievement.
Research in Middle Level Education Quarterly, 22
(3), 43-57. CPRD publications available at Felner, Jackson, Kasak,
Mulhall, Brand, Flowers (1997). The impact of
school reform for the middle years Longitudinal
study of a network engaged in Turning
Points-based comprehensive school
transformation. Phi Delta Kappan, 78(7),
528-532, 541-550. Lee Smith (1993). Effects
of school restructuring on achievement and
engagement of middle-grade students. Sociology
of Education, 66, 164-187.
Lee, Smith, Smylie (1999). Social support,
academic press, and student achievement A view
from the middle grades in Chicago. Chicago
Consortium on Chicago School Research,
University of Chicago. Lee Smith (2000).
School size in Chicago elementary schools
Effects on teachers attitudes and students
achievement. American Educational Research
Journal, 37(1), 3-31. Sweetland Hoy (2000).
School characteristics and educational outcomes
Toward an organization model of student
achievement in middle schools. Educational
Administration Quarterly, 36(5), 703-729.
For Questions or More Information, Please
Contact the Oregon STW Core Team Colin Cameron Joni Gilles Jill ONeill Bill
Rhoades Joel
Visit Schools to Watch at